On 3 October, 1985, Atlantis, the first and last space shuttle that NASA would use in its Space Shuttle Program, launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, beginning its maiden voyage above the earth.
Like the mythical lost city, Atlantis pushed the boundaries of discovery during her career. She became the first Space Shuttle Orbiter to dock to an orbiting space station, and went on to perform the most dockings to a space station (19 in total) of any launch and entry space vehicle in history.
For twenty-five years, the Atlantis shuttle served as an exploratory symbol of international cooperation, conducting more internationally orchestrated missions than any other shuttle orbiter in human history. In total, 25 of Atlantis’ 33 flights were concerned with international pursuits. She spent, for the record, a total of 305 days, 7 hours and 47 minutes in space, completing 4,848 orbits of Earth, as well as carrying 207 crew members to space.
Among her many attributes, she was also the final space shuttle to dock at two of the most iconic locations of human space exploration: the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station.
Nowadays, the Atlantis can be found in the Exploration Park Museum in Kennedy. At the museum, after an audiovisual presentation detailing its influential history, the walls split open to reveal the Atlantis suspended high inside an old aircraft hanger, its wings pointing heavenward and tilted in a steep 43 degree angle, as if ready to take to the skies once again at a moment’s notice.
Seeing the hanging aircraft in all of its glory reminds of the enduring power of humanity to innovate and succeed. With NASA planning to send astronauts on missions to Mars within the next twenty years, it’s impossible not to wonder what lies beyond the stars, in the many far corners of space which humankind is yet to explore. Perhaps, soon, we’ll know.